Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Survey feedback becomes part of the bigger picture

By ARCHBISHOP WILTON D. GREGORY | Published February 20, 2014  | En Español

My Dec. 5 column tackled the topic of the Vatican survey that is now widely considered an important component in the preparation for the upcoming Bishops’ Synod on the Family. The folks of the Archdiocese of Atlanta, along with those from other local Churches throughout the world, were asked to respond to the Vatican’s invitation for feedback regarding the pastoral challenges facing marriage and the family.

The original request came from then-Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, (he is now a Cardinal-designate and will be a Cardinal Feb. 22), secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, in order to help the Holy See to prepare for the upcoming Synod on the theme “Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization” that will be held in October 2014. The Archdiocese provided the opportunity for anyone interested in replying to a number of questions regarding the challenges that families face today through the Vatican survey.

I was edified to see that over 4,900 members of the Archdiocese of Atlanta responded to the survey and helped me to respond to the Vatican’s call for feedback from our Archdiocese.

Reflecting on your survey responses, I have submitted a letter to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which they will use to respond to the Vatican officials who are collating the information in preparation for the Synod.

The Vatican will select a group of experts to examine all the responses and to make a presentation that will be “a concise, faithful summary of all the responses.” This report will be used to create the official working document for the Synod, known in Latin as the Instrumentum laboris, which will be published in May.

Although bishops were instructed that the specific responses to the questionnaire belonged exclusively to the Holy See, I would like to share with you a few thoughts about the feedback that I received from our people as well as to extend an invitation to you. As I surveyed your responses to those questions the Vatican posed, it was very clear that you, the faithful of the Archdiocese of Atlanta, love our faith and are deeply concerned about many issues regarding marriage and the family. Some of these issues include the pastoral care of divorced persons, especially those who have remarried, the care of those who live with same sex attraction, and the questions of the role of the family in society today.

It is encouraging to see that our people have a genuine desire to make sure that everyone receives compassionate pastoral care, and that no one is forgotten. Your concern for those who may feel marginalized reminded me of a speech that then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio gave last spring at the pre-conclave meeting of the Cardinals, in which he said, “Evangelizing presupposes a desire in the Church to come out of herself. The Church is called to come out of herself and to go to the peripheries, not only geographically, but also the existential peripheries: the mystery of sin, of pain, of injustice, of ignorance and indifference to religion, of intellectual currents, and of all misery.”

I was also encouraged to see so many responses from our people who are concerned that Church teachings on family issues must be better understood and endorsed. As Catholics, we know that the Church’s teachings on marriage and family life lead to true freedom, and that they must be protected so that the family and society will remain healthy and strong. In order to do this, we must work together, as the body of Christ, to preserve the dignity and beauty of the family. We must strive first within our own families to be a people of strong faith and courage, so that we might face the many challenges that come our way. We must continually turn to Christ and His bride, the Church, for strength and care in difficult times.

It is my prayer that families seeking support in times of struggle and hardship may find within the Church a resting place and a source of compassion and strength.

The invitation I now extend is one to participate in the process to create a Pastoral Plan for the Archdiocese of Atlanta. Pastoral Planning is a process that engages and empowers members of a faith community to express their baptismal call in prayer, discernment and actions that address the pastoral needs of this local church and all those served by it. Pastoral Planning involves praying and thinking together as a family about the actions of the Body of Christ in a specific time and place.

Even before the Holy See issued the news about a Synod on the Family, our local Church had already begun the process of creating a Pastoral Plan for the Archdiocese of Atlanta. To begin the conversation and the work of creating a pastoral plan, people from throughout the Archdiocese, to include practicing Catholics, non-practicing Catholics, as well as some former Catholics, will have an opportunity to complete a brief survey. While the Vatican survey focused upon marriage and family life, this survey seeks to identify the most pressing needs of our local Church, including marriage and family life, as well as liturgical, pastoral, sacramental and educational needs.

I invite you to complete our survey and to participate in this beginning of an important conversation of an electronic sort. Share the survey widely with your family and friends and neighbors, with those practicing our faith, as well as those who may be on the periphery of the Church, as well as with our sisters and brothers of other faiths and traditions. I need to know what you see as the greatest challenges and demands in the midst of living our Catholic Faith in north and central Georgia.